When the Left Denies Science

Galileo’s Middle Finger is one of the most important social-science books of 2015 because of how thoroughly it punctures liberal smugness about science.

Jesse Singal
When Liberals Attack Social Science
The New Yorker
December 30, 2015

I spare no virtual ink in this forum excoriating those who would deny science in the name of political ideology, and am studiously non-partisan about this: the conservatives who still refuse to consider the possibility of climate change, end stem-cell research, or keep evolution out of textbooks come under as much fire as the liberals engaged in a jihad against GMOs, who deny the role of evolution in the human brain, and who in the words of Michael Shermer, maintain that “everything natural is good, and everything non-natural is bad.”

So it is encouraging to come across Jesse Singal’s moving review of Galileo’s Middle FingerAlice Dreger’s new book about what happens when science clashes with activist liberal dogma. In the book, Dreger documents in meticulous detail two specific cases of when this happens, and the results are disturbing. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice to say that both researchers collected evidence that pointed in a direction that challenged liberal dogma, and as a result, faced baseless academic and popular witch hunts aimed at ruining their lives and their careers, not simply challenging their conclusions.

That this is reprehensible is axiomatic. As Singal notes:

We should want researchers to poke around at the edges of “respectable” beliefs about gender and race and religion and sex and identity and trauma, and other issues that make us squirm. That’s why the scientific method was invented in the first place. If activists — any activists, regardless of their political orientation or the rightness of their cause — get to decide by fiat what is and isn’t an acceptable interpretation of the world, then science is pointless, and we should just throw the whole damn thing out.

These accusations are not being flung by some right-wing PAC. Not only is The New Yorker somewhere to the left of center in its own editorial policies, Dr. Dreger is a genuine progressive who has spent years working with the transgendered. Her conclusions are thus animated by a desire to rid science of politics rather than score points on the opposition.

Read the entire review, and then do what I did: pick up Dregel’s book. This nonsense has to end, and we, by being informed, can help end it.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

2 thoughts on “When the Left Denies Science”

  1. Yes, a few storm-in-teacup campus spats about microagressions and gendered science are EXACTLY the same as systematic, sustained climate denial.

    Or, just maybe, not.

    Yes the article below is Mother Jones. The research on this false “balance” it cites however, isn’t “liberal” or “conservative”.

    http://m.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/left-science-gmo-vaccines

    Please continue to point out anti-science wherever you find it, David. But let’s not pretend there’s anything even approaching parity on this particular axis.

    1. Shannon, my points are these:

      First, that placing political dogma over scientific knowledge, regardless of provenance, is dangerous. Deny climate science and you risk catastrophe. Deny the value of GMOs and you risk mass starvation. Deny the value of vaccines and you risk pandemic.

      Second, denial of science in favor of political dogma is wrong no matter what the scale of the effects. It is as wrong to allow your dogma to deny climate change or the value of GMOs as it is to allow you to deny the science of human biology and nature. As Singal, not a conservative, notes:

      “If activists — any activists, regardless of their political orientation or the rightness of their cause — get to decide by fiat what is and isn’t an acceptable interpretation of the world, then science is pointless, and we should just throw the whole damn thing out.”

      Third, that to be liberal does not of itself make you a champion of science. It does not matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, accepting the scientific viewpoint on a given issue is often a choice to act against your political dogma, and there are both liberals and conservatives who refuse to part with their emotional beliefs.

      Finally, that despite your attempts to belittle it, the identity (not just gender, but race, religion, sex, and trauma) issue as it is erupting on campuses – an emotional, dogmatic, and anti-scientific secular jihad – has serious implications for future of the American polity. It is an historical truism that today’s campus politics set the stage for the national mainstream 4-5 election cycles hence, often fewer. What we see emerging from campuses is not just “tempest in a teacup” spats, but the flowering of a movement that is deeply authoritarian in nature and fundamentally inimical to the values that underlie the national system of government.

      Maybe that’s not as important to you as climate. But it is important, and it is deeply rooted in a liberal instinct to place dogma over science.

      I read the MoJo article, and with respect, I find it a lame effort. All it manages to say is “liberals aren’t the only ones worried about GMOs and vaccines.” Sorry. I will take the cogent analyses of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, The Washington Post, and the Scientific American over MoJo’s heartfelt but ultimately polemical defense of liberalism.

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